“I feel very relieved now.”
Those were the words of the just-vaccinated Chaska Middle School West science teacher Mary Jo Nairn on Friday, Feb. 26.
Nairn was among an estimated 800 teachers who received vaccinations at the mass-vaccination clinic in Waconia.
The effort was a partnership between Carver County and Ridgeview medical center; a total of 700 Carver County and 100 Wright County school staff were vaccinated, according to Carver County Public Health Director Richard Scott.
“I think every shot in the arm increases the safety of our staff and our students and our community,” said Celi Haga, district communications director.
Earlier in the week, Nairn was a bundle of nerves.
On Wednesday afternoon, school staff received word from Eastern Carver County Schools Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams that there would be 700 slots available for vaccinations on a first-come, first-served basis later that day.
Nairn recalled anxiously waiting for the 5 p.m. COVID vaccination registration to begin. She was on one computer, and as a fail-safe, her husband on another.
“I’m like a child waiting for Santa or something,” Nairn recalled.
Finally, online registration opened, and Nairn was among roughly 300 Eastern Carver County Schools staff who were able to get an appointment.
“I felt like I was in tears when it said ‘Choose your appointment,’ and I got one,” Nairn recalled.
“I was lucky enough to get a slot. I felt relieved mentally.”
Middle school students are currently learning in a hybrid model — in-person and distance learning. “Half-in, half-out,” Narin said. “So it’s been a real struggle to keep kids six feet apart when they’re in the room.”
Nairn teaches sixth-grade science, as well as a technology and design class. She said it’s a challenge to teach children certain tasks, such as how to properly read the calibration on a graduated cylinder, while keeping her distance.
Teachers will receive notices of children who need to be quarantined due to COVID, and she said she’d ask herself, ‘How close was I to this child?’
“It makes me feel anxious, and I’m not an anxious person,” Narin said.
“I’ve just been worried and scared to be in the classroom,” she said. “My husband’s a little older than I am, with compromised health conditions and he was able to get both shots,” she said.
The school staff received their vaccinations at the Lake Waconia Event Center.
“The process was so well organized, they just had it tuned — all the gears were working, from the greeter to the person who showed you to check-in, to the person who took you to the injection area,” Nairn said.
Besides the approximately 300 Eastern Carver County staff scheduled to receive a vaccination Friday, another 440 already had vaccination appointment slots at a St. Paul clinic a few weeks ago, according to Haga. Haga’s unsure if all of the St. Paul appointments went through.
Yet another 600 Carver County school staff were slated to be vaccinated at a Wednesday, March 3 clinic in Waconia (after the newspaper went to press). The vaccinations at this clinic were distributed to districts based on school enrollment, Scott said. There were 354 ECCS staff vaccinated, which means there could be about 1,094 of 1,413 educational staffers in Eastern Carver County Schools now vaccinated.
“We want to be in-person and be with our students, and this is a great step forward to make sure that can happen,” Haga said, of the Friday clinic.
Once a teacher passes two weeks following full vaccination, they will no longer have to quarantine if they’re in close contact with someone with COVID, Haga said.
Vaccinations are optional for school staff, according to Haga.
“There are no requirements for vaccinations for staff, and while there are mandated vaccinations required for students, there are avenues to obtain exemptions,” Haga said.
The vaccination clinic is an opportunity “to really pave the way for us to get students back in buildings,” said District 112 Board Chair Jeff Ross.
Ross noted that elementary school students and teachers can “stay in pods,” reducing possible COVID exposure. However, he said, it’s more difficult at the middle and high school levels, where students attend different classes throughout the day and interact with different teachers.
Carver County has coordinated several mass-vaccination clinics. “We have really strong partnerships with Ridgeview, along with other collaborative partners,” Scott said.
Last Friday, Ridgeview provided 200 vaccinations it received from the state (100 distributed to Carver County and 100 to Wright County), with Carver County providing 600 vaccinations, according to Scott.
Ridgeview and Carver County Public Health personnel administered the vaccination program, with the majority of staff provided by Ridgeview, Scott said.
The Friday vaccine clinic hours were 8 a.m.-2:15 p.m., unfortunately “right smack in the middle of the school day,” Haga said.
“There’s no way to safely provide in-person learning when you have that many people in and out,” Haga said.
So, as a result, no students reported to in-person learning on Friday. Teachers provided assignments for students to complete independently, according to a school announcement.
“It’s challenging, especially for elementary parents,” Haga said. “Our hope is, long-term, this really stabilizes any future impacts of the virus to the district learning model.”
After her vaccination, Nairn headed back to work at Chaska Middle School West.
There she learned that the on-again, off-again hybrid teaching model was moving to an in-person learning model — four days a week for middle schoolers. Her largest class holds 35 students.
For teachers, it’s been a year of such pivoting.
‘Pivot’ is a word that has been used regularly since the beginning of the pandemic. However Nairn has given the term some thought.
“When you’re pivoting, one foot is planted,” she said. “And the other is moving where it needs to be.”